Blair’s Golden Road Blog — IWAAJ, Or Was It?
“It Was All About Jerry.” If you’ve prowled Deadnet Central or other Grateful Dead message boards/sites through the years, chances are you’ve encountered “IWAAJ.” During what has become known in Dead Head circles as “The Days Between” (Garcia’s August 1st birthday through the day of his death, August 9th), I seem to see that abbreviation pop up in discussions even more, as folks weigh in and ponder Jerry’s passing and his impact, etc. But year-round, fans drop “IWAAJ” into online conversations in a variety of situations, perhaps most often as final punctuation in discussions about the relative merits of post-Garcia bands—as if that abbreviation, in and of itself, explains why RatDog or Furthur or any other group doesn’t possess that fully magical Grateful Dead X-factor; i.e. because Jerry is not part of it.
Well, duh! There’s no question that Garcia was the dominant creative force in the Grateful Dead. As an improvising guitarist without peer, passionate singer, chief songwriter, de facto spokesman for the group and possessor of an incredible mind and wit, Jerry left shoes impossible to fill. He is the major reason I spent 25 years and untold treasure going to see him at every opportunity, and why I have scribbled more than a million words (literally) about his exploits. I echo the sentiment of the bumper sticker I see occasionally: “I MISS JERRY EVERY DAY.”
But I don’t believe IWAAJ. One song into my first Grateful Dead show back in 1970, it was abundantly clear that there was a very special chemistry going on within the band and that each player was an integral and original part of the group’s overall sound. I had never heard another bass player like Phil Lesh, nor a so-called “rhythm guitarist” like Bob Weir. What the drummers were doing behind them was unlike the standard rock rhythms most bands trotted out. It was deeper and more complex. As I saw the band more often (13 times in those first two years), my appreciation of the uniqueness of each of the players and his contributions to the overall gestalt grew exponentially. And while that was happening, I was also learning that the Grateful Dead’s following was an audience unlike any other in music and that the atmosphere the band and crowd created together was its own wonderful thing. As the years went by, the specialness of the Dead audience (compared with other bands’ fans) and its bond with the band became even more apparent.
One reason Dead Heads are so obsessed about sound is because it was not AAJ. I clearly recall griping after some shows (especially at Winterland) that the band played great but I couldn’t really hear Phil as well as I’d like, or noting that Healy had Weir turned down way too low at many shows in the early ’80s. (Alas, the tapes confirm that assessment.) Sit on the extreme right or left of a hall during the later Healy era and you risked either being deafened by Brent or losing him for the most part. I always wanted to hear every instrument clearly and balanced, not just Jerry, and I certainly wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
When other players in the band had “off” nights, a spectacular night by Jerry helped but usually could not completely elevate a show to true greatness — all parts had to be in sync and moving smoothly for that to happen. Conversely, having everyone in the band playing really well except Jerry — as happened so often during the more disturbing portions of 1994 and 1995 — didn’t really do it, either. But I give the guys major points for heroically trying not to let his diminished capacity drag the music completely down. At a lot of those shows, it was AAEE — “All About Everyone Else.”
So, now we’re 16 years into the post-Garcia era, and there are still many folks who have no interest in hearing the ex-Dead members playing together, or they’ve checked it out and been disappointed (by its lack of Jerry-ness!). My feeling, though, is that so much of the Grateful Dead’s essence and Garcia’s spirit is ingrained in each of the surviving players, and within the songs themselves, that it isn’t at all hard for me to accept those players in new combinations reinterpreting this music I love, sometimes in radical ways. In the early days after Jerry died, it was the original Missing Man Formation lineup of Vince Welnick, Steve Kimock, Bobby Vega and Prairie Prince that first showed me I could feel that Grateful Dead spark again—that it didn’t take Jerry being there to get me off. So I’ve always tried to be open to whatever new lineups of players have come down the pike investigating and exploring the Dead’s musically egalitarian methodology (everyone is important!) and seemingly boundless repertoire. (It’s too bad it took Jerry’s death for us to hear everything from “The Eleven” to “Viola Lee Blues” to “The Golden Road” to “Mountains of the Moon” splendidly reinvented for modern times.)
All of the guys in the band are still playing fantastically well and seem to be dedicated to constantly reinvigorating the Dead canon. I’ve left shows by The Other Ones, The Dead, the Mickey Hart Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, RatDog, Furthur and other Dead-connected groups positively glowing, and that’s all the proof I need to believe that great as he was, and as much as I loved him, it was not AAJ — for me. And the crowds by and large remain a source of joy and inspiration, as well.
God, I miss Garcia! But I’m so happy that those he left behind didn’t just fold up the tent, close shop—whatever the appropriate metaphor is—and leave their shared history behind. The evolution continues, without Jerry, and it’s still putting smiles on faces and offering, to quote a recent Phil-Hunter tune, an invitation to the dance.
“Uncle John’s Band” asked, “Will you come with me? Won’t you come with me?” Yup, I will! Wherever it goes.
How ’bout you?
With all due respect, unkle sam, I would like to offer that some, including me, would conversely consider the "IWAAJ" mantra disrespectful to the greatest rock n' roll band to ever roam the Earth (o.k., the Western hemisphere and parts of North Africa/Southwest Asia).
Some hot guitar players get so much from or become so joined to "group" identity. And some don't. Without the Dead, Jerry's music career could have turned out fabulously well, who knows he could have been even more identified with Hunter as a duo. But I'm thinking he would have been a mix of Mike Bloomfield, John Cippollina, Harvey Mandel and Glenn Phillips -- highly personal style, astounding talent, adoring if limited audience, crystal ear, and tragic flair for bad choices.
There is probably some cosmic message in the fact that this came up as the result of my searching for something else entirely on the net, coming across an awfully familiar-sounding Jerry quote and deciding to track it down, and yup, it was mine, as in, he said it to me. (Let's just say that Signpost and some of Blair and David's interviews in particular are so ingrained on my brain that I know them better than my own, so at my advanced age I take nothing for granted, I look it up.) But while it would be grossly unfair to take this remark out of context as Jer's oracular pronouncement on the IWAAJ issue, as Jerry Day unfolds across the Bay I have to grin at the timing just the same: Well, a lot of it is because it is us, it's not me. For me it's easier to believe a group than it is a person. It takes the weight off that one person, you know what I mean? That's part of it, I think. That's certainly one of the things that makes the Grateful Dead interesting, from my point of view, is that it's a group of people. And the dynamics of the group part is the part that I trust. For me that's real helpful. (interview transcript is here)
I lived in Iowa for a total of 16 years. I have many friends who lived and still live in Utah , who went to many shows in thewest coast . Andone of them told me i think later in 1995 , that the Scarlet B - Fire on the mtn in Oakland on Feb 24 was the best he d ever see or heard . And hed been to like 50 + shows
So those types of comments give you an accurate idea about certain times and momments , and when in relation to this band can clear things up totally if not completely .......
I also have friends who went to some of the Charlotte shows in spring . And can account that they were lively .......
* Lets be frank , this band given the day or year could make an arena or stadium shake their asses all night long . That was Jerry , capable of doing the impossible - a warrior ....... Peace
I know Phil , Bob and co . know they were all evenly or more important than Jerry . As Blair said , in this band Everyone was key and important .
** In the Miles Davis quintet - to mention another quite noteworthly example - in the 1960 s , Neither musician was more or less than any of the others . Be it Miles , Tony Williams , Herbie Hancock . Wayne Shorter or Ron Carter . No one s input was more than the rest
Although Ron Carter took a while to become a powerful bass player ; and a giant he was when he came into form .
Don't have much to add to this.I have been the King of the Castle around here for the last 48 hrs.and I have got the old Marantz tube amp pretty hot with a bunch of GD too.We can all agree that at one place or another,say deep in the 2nd set(a certain Stella Blue comes to mind) we all stood together in the dark with stage lights filtered as Garcia was doing his trip.
And in that moment ,we all agreed that IWAAJ.Remember that?
shwack in nh
It starts with Garcia but thankfully it doesn't end there.
Just keep truckin' on.....and on.
Listened to a bunch of GD last night, and came to the conclusion, that, yes indeed, IWAAJ. The jury came back with that verdict, in fact. Case closed!
sorry Blair and the rest of you, I am a firm believer that it was all about Jer, if it wasn't, there would still be a "Grateful Dead", but there's not. Seen all of the post Jerry lineups, good but not the experience that I am looking for, there is nowhere in any of these bands where the music plays the band. Jerry brought that. To deny this is, in my opinion, is disrespectful to the greatest guitar player that ever lived. No other member of this band, alone, could do what Jer did. Yes, I will agree that on certain nights, the Band was what it was all about, but only when Jerry wasn't on, when he was on, get out of the way cause I'm gonna steamroll over the rest of you and just try to keep up, many a times I have heard Phil or Bobby try and steer Jerry into another direction only to have him, some times nice, some times not, continue on his beautiful thought that only he could turn into sound. In my own mind, I like to think that the rest of the band was the greatest back up band in the world, and without Jerry, there was no direction, no leader, no Captain Trips. So, go ahead, carve this thought up but I will never be convinced that it was not all about Jerry, just listen to the music play.
Roaring "Help on the Way" out of the box-amazing "Stella Blue" and "Scarlett/Fire" Jerry looking frail but sounding and playing to a very high standard. Turned out to be my last show. Now go run and see.
I can still hear Jerry singing "oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh" during fire.
It is worth releasing, along with 5/29/95 (didn't attend...wanted to...long story).
8/21 & 22/93 would be great RT material. A splendid time was had by all.
gimme gimme gimme...I need some more
gimme gimme gimme...don't ask what for